Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans

Steelers fans need to do some soul searching.

When Michael Vick was signed as the backup quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the reaction was vitriolic. There were protests. There was outrage. There were candlelight vigils for the victims of his criminal malfeasance.  Even though his hiring made football sense given Roethlisberger’s propensity for injury, a number of fans were incensed and vowed to never support Vick.

All that moralizing will be put to the test over the next 4-6 weeks.

Recently, Roethlisberger suffered a knee sprain and bone bruise as he was tackled by Rams safety Mark Barron. Many are calling it a dirty play, but Roethlisberger maintains that it was a clean hit. 

This sets the stage for what I knew would happen: Steelers fans that protested the signing of Michael Vick will have to decide if they will cheer for him as he quarterbacks the team. As for me, I want Vick to do well. I want him to excel. He is a man who made mistakes, his actions were inexcusable, but I refuse to allow a person’s missteps be the defining characteristic of their lives—especially if they go out of their way to right the wrongs they have done.

Vick cannot change the past. The dogs that died cannot be resurrected. The animals tortured cannot be made whole. But what Vick can do is raise awareness about animal cruelty…and he has done that. In fact, he has gone beyond what the courts required him to do.

Many will say he did all this because he wants to rehabilitate his public personae. That he is not truly remorseful—this may be true. Or it may be that he is deeply, genuinely sorry for the wrong he has done. After all, it is possible for a man to have a change of heart. I can’t make that call. Animal rights activists can’t either.

But what I will not do is remain silent while unforgiving dog lovers bully a man they don’t know. Call me a Christian. Call me someone who believes in second chances. Call me a man who once needed grace and is able to have compassion for another who needs some of his own. Nevertheless, what this shows us is how hypocritical Americans can be in how we treat those who have made legal mistakes.

In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault said:

“We are now far away from the country of tortures, dotted with wheels, gibbets, gallows, pillories; we are far, too, from that dream of the reformers, less than fifty years before.”

He is right. Long gone are the days of tar and feathers; we do not put criminals in stocks for everyone to see. We like to think of ourselves as a country invested in giving people second chances. Yet, in spite of this, we force ex-offenders to mark a box that informs employers of their criminal record; we unapologetically treat people who have broken the law like criminals instead of otherwise good people who have made the mistake of committing a crime; we are stigmatizing of the black and brown people who tend to commit blue collar crimes, but we are forgiving of the mostly white and wealthy folks who commit white-collar crimes.

Americans need to reexamine how we treat prisoners. We need to see how our attitudes toward those with criminal records contributes to the fact that we hold 25% of the world’s population of prisoners, and how this disproportionately affects people of color.

So I will be cheering for Vick. Not because I am a fan of the Steelers; nor because I agree with the mistakes he’s made—but like Bomani Jones, I want to see people to confront their own hypocrisy.

Play well Vick. I’m pulling for you.

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Lawrence Ware is a professor of philosophy and diversity coordinator for Oklahoma State University’s Ethics Center. He can be reached at:  Law.writes@gmail.com.

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